Written by Maryann Sinclair Slutsky Friday, 19 March 2010 00:00
This past Friday morning, three immigrant worker advocates left the parking lot of the Hempstead Home Depot and started walking toward Queens.
When they reached Queens, they continued walking to Brooklyn. From Brooklyn, to Staten Island. On foot. And they didn’t stop there.
The members of the group – from The Workplace Project, a Hempstead-based immigrant worker rights organization – are still walking now, with their objective to reach Washington, D.C., in time for a March 21 rally in support of immigration reform, legislation that would update our immigration system to fix, finally, our broken immigration system by creating an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and, as a consequence, improve labor conditions for all workers.
On their way to D.C., the workers will walk 255 miles over the course of nine days. And you thought your daily treadmill routine took devotion.
The Workplace Project is focused on ending the exploitation of immigrant workers. But it’s not just immigrants who will benefit from sensible immigration reform. It will also benefit native-born Long Islanders. Although immigrants are an overall economic engine for Long Island – coming from around the world to work hard, start businesses, and participate in the American Dream – it’s also true that unscrupulous employers can exploit our broken system by hiring undocumented immigrants for less than they could negotiate in an above-ground economy. These employers are undercutting wages for all workers.
Well aware of how our current immigration system allows unscrupulous employers to manipulate the labor market, two of the nation’s biggest labor unions—the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win federation—announced their support for immigration reform in April 2009.
Immigration reform will signal to these employers that the time for their cheating has passed. If Congress passes reform, it will reduce undocumented immigration by creating an earned pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are here already, and making sure that legal immigration rates match the needs of our ever-changing economy.
And that means we’ll create a level playing field for native-born and immigrant workers, boosting wages for all workers. It’s about time. And it matters to all of us.
Ideally, everyone with a stake in immigration reform – which means, basically, everyone period – should be at this Washington rally on March 21.
If you’re not in the mood for a 250-mile stroll to our nation’s capital, call the Long Island Immigrant Alliance at 631-789-0720 for information about buses, which will be leaving from various points across the island. You don’t have to walk 250 miles. You just have to want Long Island to work for everyone.
Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the campaign director of Long Island Wins, a campaign promoting policy solutions to local immigration issues. Visit their website at www.LongIslandWins.com.